Jeep Wrangler Production at KUKA’s Toledo Production Operations Validates Industry 4.0 Principals

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3Q 2017 | IN-4734

The combination of robotics, massive connectivity, supply chain integration and Industry 4.0 principles result in substitutional manufacturing productivity improvement at KUKA Toledo Production Operations.

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Churning Out Jeep Wranglers


KUKA Toledo Production Operations (KTPO), a wholly owned subsidiary of industrial robot and automation solutions provider KUKA Systems North America, and a Tier I supplier of automobile bodies for Chrysler, recently announced the production of the two-millionth Jeep Wrangler body-in-white at its manufacturing facility in Toledo, Ohio. More importantly, the second million was produced 43% more quickly that the initial one million Wrangler units. 

Robotics, Connectivity and Pay-For-Production Suppliers


Body in white (BIW) is the stage of automotive manufacturing in which the sheet metal components of a car body have been welded together, preceding the addition of the engine, the frame, moving parts (doors, hoods, etc.), and trim components (glass, fenders, seats, electronics, etc.). KTPO produces the BIW of all Jeep Wranglers sold throughout the world, including two-door and four-door models, as well as right-hand drive, left-hand drive, full-door and half-door variations.

KTPO is located in a separate building at the Toledo Supplier Park within the Chrysler Group’s LLC's Toledo Assembly Complex. Also located in the Toledo Supplier Park is Hyundai Mobis, which is responsible for the production of Wrangler chassis. Both KTPO and Mobis are Jeep Wrangler Tier 1 suppliers working through a pay-for-production supply chain model that Chrysler adopted in 2003 (along with many other manufacturers forgoing traditional, vertically integrated approaches). Chrysler itself handles the paint, trim, chassis and final assembly operations, using parts and assemblages produced by KTPO and Mobis.

Chrysler selected KTPO as its auto body supplier in 2005. From the start, KTPO was designed to be highly automated, and tightly integrated with their own supply chain, as well as the supply chains of Crystal and their other Tier 1 suppliers. In 2006 the 342,000 square foot KTPO facility began operations, employing 250 workers working two eight-hour shifts, and supported by 245 KUKA robots. Initially, the KTPO plant produced 35 Jeep Wrangler bodies per hour, or 135,000 per year. Over the first seven years of operation, KTPO generated approximately one million automotive bodies. With KTPO’s contribution, supported by the industry’s best supplier integration, the production efficiency of the Toledo Assembly Complex outpaced that of any of Chrysler’s North American competitors.

Over time, the KTPO facility was updated according to Industry 4.0 principals, adding robots (now 260) and a third shift. The robotic systems, along with 60,000 other industrial devices, sensors, control systems and more, are highly interconnected. In fact, the entire value chain, from material delivery, to body-in-white production and transport, is consistently monitored and controlled, with advanced analytics employed to optimize production, improve quality and reduce downtime.

KTPO currently produces 828 Jeep Wrangler bodies per day, approximately one every 77 seconds (approximately 47 per hour). As a result, the facility was able to produce a million bodies in three and on-half years, a process that required seven years for the first one million Jeep Wranglers.

  Major Production Methodologies  

Facilitating Industry 4.0 Adoption


The automotive industry was the first sector to employ robots for manufacturing. The primary benefit of these early systems was dramatically increased production speed compared to manual methods. But beginning in the 1980s, and expanding in the 1990s, a number of production process improvement methods and techniques designed to address inadequacies in earlier mass production models came to the fore. Many of these methods fell under the auspices of ‘Lean Manufacturing’, a management philosophy based on the Toyota Production System (TPS), a system developed by Toyota between 1948 and 1975 for managing production, logistics and supplier/customer interactions with the goal of reducing waste (material, time, transportation and more).

Over the years, manufacturers demanded that robotics suppliers enhance their systems and built new ones that could better support the tenets of ‘Lean Manufacturing’. While robots are not inherently ‘lean’ - they can actually increase the rate at which waste is produced - robotics suppliers and their integrators increased the capabilities of systems over time so that they were capable of a greater range of motion with higher levels of accuracy and repeatability, and in this way were able to operate more leanly.

Today, manufacturers are increasingly demanding robotics technologies that support Agile Manufacturing, flexible production processes that make no assumptions as to volume levels or even types of products being manufactured. Agile methods are extremely well suited for 21st century manufacturers, who must be flexible and responsive to customers that demand rapidly produced, constantly changing, high-quality products at low cost. The new generation of collaborative robots, those systems capable of working safely in close approximation with human workers and can be repurposed and reprogrammed quickly to perform new tasks, are specifically designed to be ‘agile’.

The promise of Industry 4.0, the digitalization of manufacturing, includes increased efficiency and productivity, reduced waste, greater production flexibility (can accommodate high mix and low volumes), and lower production costs. Another, perhaps primary, benefit is improved quality of manufactured goods. In this sense, Industry 4.0 subsumes, and improves upon, the major production methodologies that preceded it – the Mass, Lean and Agile techniques (Figure 1).

Members of the automotive manufacturing supply chain were one of the first groups to embrace Lean Manufacturing and Agile Manufacturing approaches, and as the KTPO example illustrates, that trend continues with Industry 4.0. Still, some parties within the automotive supply chain faction have been Industry 4.0 laggards, along with many non-automotive manufacturers and most small-to-medium firms. It is true that the Industry 4.0 approachwas only formalized 2014 with the release of set of recommendations for the German government by the Smart Factory Working Group, and that for many companies the high initial upfront Industry 4.0 investments are off-putting. For many of these companies, Industry 4.0 approaches areappealing, but also disruptive, unproven, and requiring upfront investments which could be difficult to justify, never mind produce.

Another obstruction for Industry 4.0 adoption is the limited number of high profile Industry 4.0 success stories, particularly those where the method’s ‘value’ is evident, simply demonstrated and easily quantified. The KTPO case study validates Industry 4.0 principals, and by doing so it can highlight a roadway for other Industry 4.0 initiatives, including within manufacturing companies that are not early adopters of new technology or novel production methodologies, are far removed from the automotive supply chain, or are small in size.

Associated Research



Industry 4.0, manufacturing, KUKA, KUKA Toledo Production Operations, KTPO, Chrysler, Mobis, Agile Manufacturing, Lean Manufacturing, Agile Manufacturing